Sep 29, 2010

Ancient Books

I've commented a lot on this blog about the ancient Celtic books and how rare and valuable they are. But the topic is on my mind again since I've just completed a novel I'm calling WORDS. A book, of course, is involved and it causes a lot of havoc. Some ancient people believed books were magical, powerful, and could bring fortune.

It's hard to fathom that in today's society. Sure, we like books, but we wouldn't go to war over one. We can just make a copy (legally or illegally.)

While writing WORDS I was influenced by the Book of Durrow, an ancient manuscript thought to have been created around 680 AD. This book is considered as the earliest of the magnificently decorated Gospels created by Irish hands.

In the 17th century a man named Conal Mac Geoghegan of Lismoyne recorded in the Annals of Clonmacnoise, "I have seen myself part of that book which is at Durrow in the Kings County in the custody of an ignorant man. When sickness came upon cattle, for their remedy put water on the book and suffered it to the rest there a while and saw also cattle return thereby to their former or pristine state and the book to receive no loss." A man dunked the ancient book into a cattle trough! According to The Ancient Books of Ireland by Michael Slavin, The Book of Durrow does show signs of water damage and "a hole in the top right-hand corner of the leaves indicates that they could have been suspended by a thong in the 'cure' process." In my story, the same thing happens.

These books were treasured not only for the scriptures they contained, but also for the incredible works of arts on the calfskin pages. In addition, some of the ancient books contained genealogies and other information that helped establish the rights of a kingdom. Copies were rare, and that's understandable when you consider that only a small percentage of people (monks) could read or write.

The fact that some of these manuscripts survive is a wonder, maybe even a miracle. The Book of Durrow resides today in the library at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

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